Of all of the nifty things I saw during the Google I/O webcast last week the most game-changing to me was Instant Apps. In the old days of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 you could navigate around the Internet happy and free. There were a few walled gardens (e.g. pay-sites) but for the most part as a consumer as long as you had a browser you could go anywhere. Then we all moved to phones and wham we hit a walled garden. In order to shop at Whole Foods I need the Whole Foods app. See something great you want to buy online; download the app for that. Pay for parking from your phone; I have six apps (!) on my phone for this depending on which lot I happen to drive into.
This is crazy. As Ellie Powers, Google PM, said “I don’t really have the Buzzfeed app on my phone… but I might want to watch a quick video”. Google has stepped fully into this fray with Instant Apps.
What is an Instant App
From a consumer point of view it’s a wonderful new way to get pieces of an application delivered to your phone at just the right time. Imagine you are in a grocery store and there is a QR code (or bar code or similar). You can the code and the coupon you wanted is on your phone. No need to download a special app, the app just arrived on your phone in about the same amount of time as downloading a website would.
No more fumbling around the App Store looking for the app, signing in, fumbling around for a credit card, and finally deciding “never mind”.
It just works…. probably
It’s not clear yet how much work this will take for developers to enable. According to the docs it might take “as little as a day to re-factor your app”. I assume that is for apps that are fairly simple and have very straightforward User Interfaces (UI) e.g. a shopping app, a music app, video apps, etc.
What this means for the rest of us
Yeah! It’s time for Web 3.0!! But this time we will get all the power of our mobile devices, more security, and all the graphic goodness of native apps. If done right this means we can break out of the walled gardens we’ve lived in since 2007 with iPhone apps.
There are lots of caveats to this story of course, the ones that come to mind:
- This is Google only. Will Apple do something similar but not the same so we continue to live in this fragmented world? If Google were truly serious about making this work they would open source the deep-links required to allow these instant apps to be cross-platform (which would still require two codebases, but hey, that’s the same as today)
- It’s not clear *when* this will launch in the real world. 2017 seems likely.
Me, I’m excited for this development.